Today’s Young People Are Clocking in More “Entertainment Media” Then Ever Before
By: Jonathan McKee
“I can’t get my kids to pry their eyes from their screens for more than a minute!”
It’s probably the biggest complaint I hear from moms and dads at my parent workshops each weekend. Kids are soaking in more entertainment media than ever before.
I’m sure you’re not surprised when I tell you a brand‐new report has revealed screen time is up.
But you might be alarmed when you hear exactly how much more entertainment media time kids are soaking in compared to just a few years ago. Common Sense Media is counting those hours and minutes, and their newest “Media Use by Tweens and Teens” report came out last Tuesday.
For the last four years whenever you’ve heard an article quote, “Today’s teens average 8 hours and 55 minutes per day soaking in entertainment media,” they were quoting Common Sense Media’s 2015 “Media Use” report. This respected report comes out every four years and is quoted by literally every parenting and media report for the next four years.
So brace yourselves, because the new results are in. And you guessed it… teens and tweens love their screens.
First, realize that this report doesn’t just record screen time, it adds up the minutes young people soak in all entertainment media including reading and listening to music, both of which don’t require a screen. Secondly, this report makes a clear distinction between tweens (8‐through 12‐year‐olds) and teens (13‐ to 18‐year‐olds). I appreciate this distinction for several reasons, the biggest being that young people under 13 shouldn’t even be on social media and resort to actually lying about their age to get Snapchat, Insta, Tik Tock and other social media favorites.
Tweens and Teens not only have different entertainment media diets, teens soak in waaaaaaaaaay more of it.
For example, if you just look at screen time, this 2019 report reveals tweens average 4 hours and 44 minutes of entertainment screen time daily, where teens average seven hours and 22 minutes a day screen time, with about one third of teens (29%) averaging more than 8 hours daily. That’s just screen time—and a lot of it—especially when mental health experts recommend no more than “two hours of extracurricular digital media use a day.”
If you add in non‐screen media activities, like listening to music, teens average 9 hours and 49 minutes daily soaking in entertainment media.
That’s just average!
If you’re thinking, “My teenagers don’t soak anything close to 10 hours of entertainment media per day!” Don’t worry. There’s a kid down the street and another one across the country who is more than making it up for your kid.
The biggest change in entertainment media diet since 2015 is the amount of time young people are watching online videos like YouTube. Tweens and teens alike average about an hour a day (56 and 59 minutes), with 69% of teenager say they watch online videos “every day.”
YouTube, a site that claims it’s for age 13 and above, is the site both tweens and teens enjoy the most. Let that sink in for a moment. 76% of 8‐ to 12‐year‐olds say they use YouTube, and only 23% say they watch YouTube Kids. What does that mean? It means most young kids are watching far more mature content than their parents realize. If you’re curious what this content looks like, just take a look at a few of their favorite online celebs. If you haven’t heard of David Dobrik, PewDiePie or Emma Chamberlain, you might want to take a peek at exactly what kind of content our kids are soaking in from these online celebs.
This 2019 report also revealed TV watching is down, with both teens and tweens watching about half an hour less TV on an actual TV set than four years ago. But is that really surprising? How often do you see your kids sitting in front of the flat screen compared to their own screen? The report is quite informative. It will tell you exactly how many young people own smartphones at what age, and that by age 11 a majority of kids (53%) have smartphones. It will tell you exactly how much time kids spend on social media each day (over an hour), and how much that varies by race and socio‐economic status.
It will also tell you young people’s entertainment media of choice: music for teens, and online videos for tweens, which might make you wonder, do I know exactly what my kids are soaking in?
How should parents respond?
The biggest question you might be wondering is, how should I respond to these numbers?
Here’s a few ideas:
1. Don’t freak out. Mom and Dad’s typical reaction is overreaction, and overreaction only leads to regret. So discover ways to turn your overreaction into interaction. Share some of these highlights from this report with your kids over the dinner table and ask them their opinion. Ask: Do you observe this to be true with your friends? How about with your own entertainment media diet? Do you think this is too much? How can we be more responsible with our screens?
2. Don’t be afraid to implement some fair and reasonable screen limits in your home.Seek out what experts are recommending as bare-minimum screen limits, rules like “no phones in the bedroom” and find what you think fits your family.
3. Don’t be so focused on blocking lies you neglect talking about the truth. Screen limits and porn filters can be a big help, but they are no replacement for equipping our kids to make get entertainment media decisions on their own. So in a world so potent with lies, look for opportunities to engage your kids in conversations about the truth of God’s word.
Are you engaging your kids in these kinds of conversation? Are you dialoging about screen time in your home? Maybe this is the topic of conversation you can try at dinner tonight.
Jonathan McKee, a Focus on the Family Associate, is the author of over 20 books including The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices and If I Had a Parenting Do Over. Jonathan speaks to parents and leaders worldwide and provides free resources for parents on TheSource4Parents.com.